Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Library

The Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (BGAS) was established in 1876 and has over 500 members. The Society exists to encourage and promote the historical and archaeological study of the Bristol and Gloucestershire area, and to produce regular academic publications. These include the Society’s Transactions, published annually since 1876, and the Gloucestershire Record Series. The Society also organises an extensive programme of lectures, events and field meetings each year.

In 1998, custody of the Society’s library transferred to the University of Gloucestershire Special Collections and Archives. As well as being open to BGAS library members it is also available for use by staff, students and the public.

For more information on the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, including membership details, publications and events, please visit the Society’s web page.

Access to the Library      

We ask that all visitors to the BGAS library contact Special Collections and Archives staff prior to their visit to book an appointment by emailing or telephoning 01242 714851.

Library members may borrow up to 5 books for an initial period of two months, with the option to renew for a further one month period. To become a library member you must already be a member of BGAS. Contact the Honorary Librarian for more information via

Searching the online Library catalogue

The library is in the process of being fully catalogued and can be searched electronically via the University’s library catalogue


Archive Item of the Month – May 2015

This month’s featured item is a timely accession to the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Library. Whether you are rejoicing or commiserating at the recent General Election result, this unassuming volume provides a glimpse of corrupt election practices in Victorian Gloucester.

Report of the Commissioners into the Existence of Corrupt Practices in the City of Gloucester (1881)

A Royal Commission was appointed to investigate allegations of bribery and election fraud by Conservative and Liberal parties during the General Elections of 1874 and 1880. This volume is the official report delivered to Queen Victoria by her Royal Commissioners after they conducted hundreds of witness interviews between October 1880 and January 1881. The transcripts of the interviews are recorded in the report and make for fascinating reading.

Title page

The report states that at the election of 1874, “many voters took more than one bribe, and frequently from both parties, and many, bribed on one side, voted on the other” (p.4). Both sides spent upwards of £1000 on bribes during each election, the equivalent of upwards of £60,000 today.

Electoral wards and polling stations in Gloucester c.1880

The report sums up:

“As to bribery we have to remark that the leading agents engaged in corrupt practices on both sides are principally members of the Corporation, and in the course of our investigation it has appeared that bribery is the rule and not the exception at all elections in the city of Gloucester. At municipal elections the price given for the vote is not so high as at parliamentary elections, but the practice of bribery is so ingrained in the city of Gloucester, that a large number of the poorer electors do not avail themselves of their franchise, either municipal or parliamentary, unless they receive a sum of money for “loss of time”, as they term it.”

Thomas Henry Ford’s evidence statement

One particularly odd witness statement came from Thomas Henry Ford, a clerk at the Liberal Central Committee Rooms on Berkeley Street. Ford was instructed to pass on bribery monies and took the precaution of disguising himself in “a very large hat something like the Yankee style. I had false whiskers. I think it is what they call the Dundreary style” (p.227).

An example of the “Dundreary style” is below, courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery. Ford’s testimony goes on to say that his disguise raised a few laughs from his fellow fraudsters.


“Dundreary Style”

Archive Item of the Month – March 2014


Murder in the Archives!


This month’s archive item is a pamphlet detailing the sensational trail of Mary Reed, accused of poisoning her husband William on 17 April 1794.


BGAS Library – Gloucestershire Pamphlets


The couple lived in Berkeley, south of Gloucester. Mary was suspected of lacing her husband’s broth with white arsenic. It took eight hours for poor William to die a slow and painful death. Mary was accused of


‘not having the fear of God before her eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, and of her malice aforethought contriving and intending the said William Reed, her late husband, in his life time to deprive of his life, and him feloniously and traitorously to poison, kill, and murder’


Mary pleaded not guilty at her trial in Gloucester which opened on 28 March 1796, almost 218 years ago to the day.


The twelve men of the jury were sworn in and a Mr Milles opened the case for the prosecution.


‘It is a crime, Gentlemen, which, next to that which concerns the life of Majesty, is of the deepest dye. It stands very high in the black catalogue of offences, which one must heartily wish had contained no such crime’


However, he urged the jury to treat Mary as innocent and only to find her guilty if the evidence presented ‘satisfies you completely that she is guilty’.


The charge of ‘petit treason’ was in fact the offence of murder, but because Mary was accused of forfeiting her duty to her husband and breaking her allegiance to him, the charge was given this title. She could still be condemned for ‘simple murder’ if the jury did not feel she was guilty of petit treason.


Mary met her husband in 1787, who ‘kept her’ until 1789 when they married. Mary was said to have stopped a marriage between William and a wealthy lady. William himself had inherited a fortune of £6000 from his father. The couple had three children but were reported to live in an ‘expensive manner’ and so William’s inheritance was ‘very much reduced’.


The Reeds were living in Poole when Mary’s brother, James Watkins, and an ‘idle young man’ called Robert Edgar came to live with them. Mary and Robert were suspected of having an affair aided by James, so William ordered Robert to leave the house.


James then planned to murder his brother-in-law by taking him out on a boat and throwing him overboard. Mary’s suspected lover Robert was shocked at this, and was later persuaded that actually William Reed had a terminal health problem and would soon die. Robert promised to marry Mary when her husband died. William was then persuaded to write a will leaving everything to Mary, and also to take out an insurance policy on his life.


The family then moved to Berkeley on 5 April 1794, 6 days before Mr Reed’s death. Mary’s lover Robert left them to take up a commission in the Dorsetshire Militia. Mary and Robert had agreed to meet up when her husband took trips to London.


Meanwhile, Mary’s brother James was seen in possession of a receipt for a poisonous drug he was going to use to ‘kill a dog’.


After William allegedly ingested the poison on 11 April, Mary’s brother James apparently hit him over the head with a stick when the poison did not work immediately. James fled the same day when still he did not kill Mr Reed.


After going into hiding, James was later found shot dead on 3 May, with a verdict of suicide recorded at his inquest. This seems unlikely, as he had been pursued by Mr Reed’s brothers and shot in the back of the head.


Robert Edgar was suspected of being an accomplice to William Reed’s death and was detained but released when he said he would give evidence at Mary’s trial. Robert stated that he had heard James threaten to kill Mr Reed and that he had asked him to procure some arsenic in order to carry out the murder, which Robert refused to do.


Other witnesses were cross-examined, including Mr West, a surgeon, who stated that Mr Reed had been in ‘perfect health’ other than having had a cold.


Mr Jenner, the surgeon who famously discovered the smallpox vaccination, was called to aid William Reed when he was taken ill. Mr Reed vomited, which a dog then ate. The dog was found dead the next morning. Jenner had asked William if the blows to his head had made him sick, but William replied ‘No, No, I was very sick before, and in consequence of what has happened since, I have great reason to believe, I have been taking something’. William asked Jenner if he could come away with him, ‘full of anxiety, and alarmed’, but Jenner thought it best William was not moved.


Jenner performed the autopsy on William after he died. He found his stomach to be inflamed, and administered some liquid from the stomach to another dog, who became very ill and later died. Jenner dissected this dog and the dog who had eaten William’s vomit and found the same inflammation of the stomach present. Jenner believed William had been poisoned.


In Mary’s defence, William’s brother Thomas took to the stand and said he had received a letter from his brother demanding he send money or else William would ‘take fatal measures’. Mary herself stated ‘I never, directly or indirectly, was in any way accessary to the death of my husband, whom I really loved’.

After an hour and a half, the jury returned the verdict of………. not guilty.


Archive Item of the Month – July 2012

To coincide with the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (BGAS) Library open day on Saturday 21st July, our item this month is a 300 year old first edition of Sir Robert Atkyns’s The Ancient and Present State of Gloucestershire, published in 1712.

Sir Robert Atkyns (1647–1711) was a topographer, antiquary, and Member of Parliament. He was educated at St Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, and at Lincoln’s Inn. He held various powerful positions including that of Deputy Lieutenant for Gloucestershire. He was knighted by Charles II in 1663 and was an MP firstly for Cirencester and then for Gloucester.

His work The Ancient and Present State of Gloucestershire was the first complete county history of its kind to be published, and had a great influence on successive volumes charting the history of Gloucestershire. The work includes coats of arms of prominent local families, a detailed map of the county and illustrated plates, as well as detailing various parish histories around the county.

The work is in excellent condition and extremely rare. An inscription written c. 1800 by an anonymous scribe in the front of the volume tells us why:

This impression of Sir Rob. Atkyns’s Glostershire is very valuable, as all the copies were accidently burnt except about one hundred. There is a new edition of less value than this printed in 1768… It has 73 copper plates. The above copies were destroy’d by fire in the printing office of William Bowyer father to the late Will. Bowyer printer. It happen’d Jan. 30th 1712-13. Many of the copies which were sav’d retain the indelible marks of those flames from which they were with much difficulty rescued. This copy was probably not in the office when the accident happen’d

If you would like to come along and see this treasure please consider coming to our open day, part of the Council for British Archaeology’s Festival of Archaeology fortnight. We will be open on Saturday 21st July from 10am – 4pm.


Archive Item of the Month – February 2012

February 2012 saw the annual Cheltenham Folk Festival take place at venues across the town. The University Archives and Special Collections hold various materials on folk-related themes, including this month’s item which is a book on Legends, Tales and Songs in the Dialect of the Peasantry of Gloucestershire. Published c.1877, this volume lists various ballads, stories and a glossary of words in the Gloucestershire dialect. It forms part of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (BGAS) Library, which we act as custodians of.

Contents of the volume include the intriguing “George Ridler’s Oven”, “The Witch of Berkeley”, “The Moolberry Tree”, “The Tithe Pig” and “Gloucestershire Harvest Home Choruses” to name a few. The volume is one of a number of items currently of interest to first-year English and second-year History students who are looking at changing English and methods of historical enquiry respectively.

Below is a selection of words from the Gloucestershire dialect glossary. Do you recognise any?:

Adry, thirsty
Barken, the homestead
Breeds, the brim of a hat
Buckling, the foul linen of a household collected for washing
Butty, a comrade in honour
Caddlement, a trifling occupation
Cess, a word used to call dogs to their food
Flump, applied to a heavy fall
Junkets, sweetmeats
Leech, a cow doctor
Paunch, to disembowel game
Piddle, to trifle, to do light work
Skurry, a flock in confused flight
Snite, to blow the nose
Spreathe, to have face or hands roughened by frost
Twissle, to turn around rapidly
Yopping or Yoppeting, a dog in full cry after game

We also have other material on folk-related subjects both from the BGAS Library and our Local Heritage Initiative (LHI) collection. Information on both collections can be found at our website Please get in touch with archive staff if you would like to come in and look at any material.